Hola, buenos días *add smile*, is a very important way to start out the day in Peru. Whether I can blame U.S. politeness deficiencies, my own lack of etiquette, or my quiet nature, at home I did not especially think about saying hello to everyone at the workplace. Here in Chulucanas, however, in my first meeting at my job site, CEO Betania (a post-secondary educational institution run by the Sisters of Mercy), the matter of greeting everyone was a preliminary point of agenda. And at CEO, everyone means everyone – students, teachers, kitchen and cleaning staff, and directors.

With a new company protocol to follow, I began popping my head into the kitchen and saying, “Hola, buenos días” (adding smile) to the staff. Soon, I was able to tack on names, “Hola, buenos días, Sra. María, hola, buenos días, Sra. Viki, hola, buenos días, Cindi.” The tienda ladies, I learned over time, rent the space from the Sisters of Mercy, meaning their profits depend on what food they are able to sell in a day. They make all things delicious – rice and chicken, empanadas, pies, cakes, and arroz con leche – rice pudding. They sell their wares to the students and teachers of the center, as well as the general public. Our volunteer community has been to known to put in a pedido or two for a mix of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes…

It’s unpredictable how God can work through the simple effort of smiling and saying hello. Months into my volunteer year, still saying hello, feeling ever-closer to the tienda ladies, one day they brought me a piece of cake from a celebration over the weekend. I was in the sewing workshop (my favorite part of my work site!), so I circuited to the kitchen to say thank you. After finishing, they offered me some papa a la huancaína – boiled potatoes with a savory sauce. I said…yes! After eating the papas, I asked if I could pay in the evening since I didn’t have any money with me at the time. “Te estamos invitando. Vamos a invitarte cada día,” was the response. Ok, I understood the inviting part to mean that I didn’t owe them anything this time, but the second sentence that they would invite me every day…? I negotiated for some clarification, but then the confirmation – yes, you can eat here every day for free. I said thank you, but also, why the amazing offer? The response struck me. Sra. Maria said, “We always prepare something for ourselves, and we also want to share with you – we thought, why should we eat and she not eat.” Somehow this act of kindness almost brought tears to my eyes.

This is one of the infinite examples of how the people here have shown the love of God to me. For the past several weeks, I have enjoyed an arroz con leche or some papas with the tienda ladies. I hope that the little I do here, which until now may only be a simple buenos días, will have an impact on at least one person the way a warm arroz con leche has had an impact on me.

Elizabeth Houbeck
Chulucanas, Peru 2017

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